Intelligence Squared US Debate – Global Warming is Not a Crisis

A debate titled ‘Global warming is not a crisis’ was held by Intelligence Squared US back in March 2007.


Speaking for the motion were Michael Crichton, Richard S. Lindzen, and Philip Stott.

Speaking against the motion were Brenda Ekwurzel, Gavin Schmidt, and Richard C.J. Somerville.

The moderator was Brian Lehrer.

The original page provides links (which I reproduce here) to the PDF complete transcript, the audio file snippets, and photos.

A note of caution: the audio file does not carry the full speeches of the debate, and thus is inferior to the PDF.

The points go back and forth a lot. If you want to skip most of it, you could just read the closing remarks at the bottom of the PDF.

The most important part was where they surveyed the audience, before and after the debate. The audience before the debate were 57.32% against the motion (i.e. believers in catatrophic doomsday global warming), 29.88% for the motion (i.e. skeptics), and 12.8% undecided.

Results after the debate at the bottom of my post.

For my part, I paid closer attention every time Michael Crichton spoke. He stressed strongly on the hypocrisy of the global warming fearmongers like Gore.

Yes, Crichton is a science fiction author, but he has dug into the issue and donea  lot of reading. IMHO, he is better educated and more balancedly informed on the issue than many so-called ‘climate scientists’… And definitely certain big-headed politicians who attended a few climate talks.

So in honour of the author whose semi-fiction book State of Fear made me look into global warming for myself and discover that it was NOT based on real science, here are Michael Crichton’s parts of the debate.

(I’ve also included the preceding global warming proponent’s remarks that Crichton refers to at the start of his speech).


RICHARD C.J. SOMERVILLE (speech excerpt)

The science community today has impeccable settled science, despite what you have just heard, that demonstrates the reality of global warming and its primary origin in human activities.

We fully understand the fundamental physics behind the greenhouse effect. We also now have persuasive observational evidence of dramatic changes already taking place in the climate system, changes that are not in any sense small. Mankind’s fingerprints have now clearly emerged above the noise of natural variability.

That is the primary message of the intergovernmental panel, climate panel, the panel on climate change report that Professor Lindzen referred to – the IPCC.

We also have powerful tools to prode… project many aspects of the future climate with considerable confidence. We take into account other important factors besides greenhouse gases – the sun, volcanoes, pollution particles. Some of our forecasts have already come true.

A group of people dispute these consensus findings of mainstream scientists. Call them contrarians. Some are here in this very room. Contrarians are not unique to climate. They exist in many fields of science.

There are a few retrovirus experts, fully credentialed, who don’t think that HIV causes AIDS. The New Yorker this week, many of you will have seen, writes about them.

When the revolution of continental drift was sweeping through geology and geophysics, some imminent earth scientists couldn’t be persuaded that plate tectonics were real. Continents can move. These contrarians were mistaken. They faded from the scene.



The microphone goes up. [LAUGHTER]

Before I begin I want to just say one brief thing about what Richard has just told you. He’s, he’s giving you the story of plate tectonics but its fascinating. He’s turned it upside down. He’s turned it on its head.

The story of plate tectonics actually is the story of one person who had the right idea – Alfred Wegener. He had it in 1912. And it is the story of major scientists at Harvard and elsewhere opposing him for decade after decade until finally it was proven to be incorrect what they were believing.

So it is, in fact — when I was a kid I was told the continents didn’t move. It is, in fact, perfectly possible for the consensus of scientists to be wrong and it is, in fact, perfectly possible for small numbers of people to be in opposition and they will be ultimately be proven true. [APPLAUSE]

I want to address the issue of crisis in a somewhat different way. Does it really matter if we have a crisis at all? I mean, haven’t we actually raised temperatures so much that we, as stewards of the planet, have to act?

These are the questions that friends of mine ask as they are getting on board their private jets to fly to their second and third homes. [LAUGHTER]

And I would like, with their permission, to take the question just a little bit more seriously. I myself, uh, just a few years ago, held the kinds of views that I, uh, expect most of you in this room hold.

That’s to say, I had a very conventional view about the environment. I thought it was going to hell. I thought human beings were responsible and I thought we had to do something about it. I hadn’t actually looked at any environmental issues in detail but I have that general view.

And so in 2000, when I read an article that suggested that the evidence for global warming might not be quite as firm as people said, I immediately dismissed it.

Not believe in global warming? That’s ridiculous. How could you have such an idea? Are you going to try and tell me that the planet isn’t getting warmer? I know it’s getting warmer.

I grew up in Long Island. And when I was a kid we always had days off from school for hurricanes. There are no hurricanes on Long Island now.

I spent thirty years in California. We used to have something called June gloom. Now it’s more like May, June, July, August gloom with September, October, November gloom added in. The weather is very different.

However, because I look for trouble, um, I went at a certain point and started looking at the temperature records. And I was very surprised at what I found.

The first thing that I discovered, which Dick has already told you, is that the increase in temperatures so far over the last hundred years, is on the order of six-tenths of a degree Celsius, about a degree Fahrenheit. I hadn’t really thought, when we talked about global warming, about how much global warming really was taking place.

The second thing I discovered was that everything is a concern about the future and the future is defined by models. The models tell us that human beings are the cause of the warming, that human beings, uh, producing all this CO2, are what’s actually driving the climate warming that we’re seeing now.

But I was interested to see that the models, as far as I could tell, were not really reliable. That is to say, that past estimates have proven incorrect.

Uh, in 1988, when James Hanson talked to the Congress and said that global warming had finally arrived, The New York Times published a model result that suggested that in the next hundred years there would be twelve degrees Celsius increase.

A few years later the increase was estimated to be six degrees, then four degrees. The most recent U.N. estimate is three degrees. Will it continue to go down? I expect so.

And this left me in a kind of a funny position. But let me first be clear about exactly what I’m saying.

Is the globe warming? Yes. Is the greenhouse effect real? Yes. Is carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, being increased by men? Yes. Would we expect this warming to have an effect? Yes. Do human beings in general effect the climate? Yes.

But none of that answers the core question of whether or not carbon dioxide is the contemporary driver for the warming we’re seeing. And as far as I could tell scientists had, had postulated that but they hadn’t demonstrated it.

So I’m kinda stranded here. I’ve got half a degree of warming, models that I don’t think are reliable. And what, how am I going to think about the future?

I reasoned in this way: if we’re going to have one degree increase, maybe if, if, climate doesn’t change and if, uh, and if there’s no change in technology – but of course, if you don’t imagine there will be a change in technology in the next hundred years you’re a very unusual person.

And I also was aware that we have actually been starting to do exactly the kind of thing that we ought to do, which is to decarbonize.

Jesse Ausubel at Rockefeller University points out, for example, that starting about a hundred and fifty years ago, in the time of Abraham Lincoln and Queen Victoria, we began to move from wood to coal, from coal to oil, from oil to natural gas and so on.

Decreasing our carbon, increasing our hydrogen makes perfect sense, makes environmental sense, makes political sense, makes geopolitical sense. And we’ll continue to do it without any legislation, without any, anything forcing us to do it, as nothing forced us to get off horses.

Well, if this is the situation, I suddenly think about my friends, you know, getting on their private jets. And I think, well, you know, maybe they have the right idea.

Maybe all that we have to do is mouth a few platitudes, show a good, you know, expression of concern on our faces, buy a Prius, drive it around for a while and give it to the maid, attend a few fundraisers and you’re done.

Because, actually, all anybody really wants to do is talk about it. They don’t actually do anything. [SOMEONE CHUCKLES IN BACKGROUND]

And the evidence for that is the number of major leaders in climate who clearly have no intention of changing their lifestyle, reducing their own consumption or getting off private jets themselves. If they’re not willing to do it why should anybody else? [APPLAUSE]

Is talking enough? I mean, is, is — the talking cure of the environment, it didn’t work in psychology. It won’t work in the environment either. [LAUGHTER]

Is that enough to do? I don’t think so. I think it’s totally inadequate. Everyday 30,000 people on this planet die of the diseases of poverty. There are, a third of the planet doesn’t have electricity. We have a billion people with no clean water, we have half a billion people going to bed hungry every night.

Do we care about this? It seems that we don’t. It seems that we would rather look a hundred years into the future than pay attention to what’s going on now. I think that’s unacceptable. I think that’s really a disgrace.

This doesn’t need to happen. We’re allowing it to happen. And I don’t know what’s wrong with the rich self-centered societies that we live in in the west that we are not paying attention to the conditions of the wider world.

And it does seem to me that if we use arguments about the environment to turn our back on the sick and the dying of our shared world, and that’s our excuse to ignore them, then we have done a true and terrible thing. And it’s awful, thank you. [APPLAUSE]


MICHAEL CRICHTON (closing statement)

There was a time when I worked in a clinic and, uh, one day a young woman came in, she was in her early twenties for a routine checkup and, I said what’s going on with you and she said I’ve just become blind.

And, I said, oh my gosh, really, when did it happen, she said, well just, uh, coming into the clinic, walking up the steps of the clinic I became blind.

And I said, oh, and I’m — by now I’m looking through the chart and I said, well, has this happened before, she said yes, it’s happened before. I’ve become blind in the past, and, what she had of course was hysterical blindness.

And the characteristic of that, is that, the severity of the symptom is not matched by the emotional response that’s, that’s being presented. Most people would be screaming about that but she was very calm, oh yes, I’m blind again.

And I’m reminded of that whenever I hear, that we’re facing, whether we wanna call it a crisis or not, a significant global event, of, of, of importance where we’re gonna have species lost and so on and so forth, that we can really address this by changing our light bulbs.

Or that we can really make an impact by unplugging our appliances when we’re not using them. It’s very much out of whack. And so if… if it were only gonna do symbolic actions, I would like to suggest a few symbolic actions that right — might really mean something.

One of them, which is very simple, 99% of the American population doesn’t care, is ban private jets. Nobody needs to fly in them, ban them now. And, and in addition…[APPLAUSE]

…let’s have the NRDC, the, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace make it a rule that all of their, all of their members, cannot fly on private jets, they must get their houses off the grid, they must live in the way that they’re telling everyone else to live.

And if they won’t do that, why should we. And why should we take them seriously. [APPLAUSE]



And now the results of our debate.

After our debaters did their best to sway you… you went from, 30% for the motion that global warming is not a crisis, from 30% to 46%. [APPLAUSE]

Against the motion, went from 57% to 42%… [SCATTERED APPLAUSE, MOANS]

And “undecided” went from 13% to 12%. The hardcore ambivalent are still among us. [LAUGHTER]

So, in terms of opinion change, those in favor of the motion, have carried the day, congratulations to the team for the motion. [APPLAUSE]

And thank you all again very much, good night.


Other Crichton speaking that I’ve posted on:

Michael Crichton on Ignorant Alarmism

Aliens Cause Global Warming

Believing in Global Warming is Like A Hole in the Head

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